By Kearstin Brown-Warren

My understanding of an elitist parent in the City of Rochester certainly doesn’t correlate with others’ definitions and opinions. For instance, I assumed that my decision to enroll my children in the Rochester City School District (RCSD) would disqualify me from being classified as a stuffed shirt. But, naw. Being a college-educated Black woman with two young boys matriculating through Rochester’s public school system who dares to speak up for marginalized voices over and over again makes for an elitist parent.

I can dig it. I’ll claim it.

If you’re like me with a skewed reality of what elitism is in the RCSD, allow me to introduce myself and how this whole highbrow status relates to me. I hope you’ll be inspired.

What is Elitism as a Parent Leader, and Why Does it Matter?
Let me to bring you Wikipedia’s explanation of elitism via Oxford Dictionaries:

Elitism is the belief or notion that individuals who form an elite—a select group of people perceived as having an intrinsic quality, high intellect, wealth, special skills, or experience—are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole, and therefore deserve influence or authority greater than that of others.

Yes and thank you, Rochester Teachers Association (RTA) leadership and select members who have labeled me as such because I fought for families to have the choice to send their children to school in February. I aim to encapsulate the above definition, wholeheartedly.

I (we parents) have an intrinsic quality; I am a uniquely endowed expert when it comes to my children.

I am (we parents are) highly intellectual; I am an extraordinarily creative and talented parent having birthed artistic works of genius.

I am (we parents are) wealthy. I am plentifully rich in resources and have access to and can compel those with assets who believe in our city scholars to give of their time and talents.

I (we parents) have special and skills and relevant experience. I am a proficient and certified parent leader with training on how to change the course of education where Ilive.

These qualities and my belief that parents should be listened to and respected as the lead decision makers when it comes to the wellbeing and education of our children make up elitism.

If that’s elitism, then sign me up as a stiff.

3 Reasons Why “I” Might Be an Elitist Parent Leader

  1. I’m not from Rochester

I was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia, having attended Fairfax County Public Schools, where I later taught as a long term substitute teacher. My upbringing in the diverse Washington DC area afforded me the opportunity to have friends from every corner of the world. I wore traditional attire, ate ceremonial foods, and participated in cultural celebrations with my friends from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Eritrea, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, Iran, Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Me and my BFF, Bianca, at my slumber party. My sleepover crew represented seven countries on five continents.

My high school days were chock full with advanced placement classes, choir, student leadership, and track and field. Finding my voice and beginning to take pride in my own Blackness and power led to the attempts to attack my intellect (Hmm, this happened this year when an RTA thought I was too dumb to use the word scholar in a sentence). This led me to flee to the Black girl magic haven called Spelman College in Atlanta to recharge. There I studied the African derivatives in Cuban classical music and began to dream of being salsa music queen and ethnomusicologist. After graduating, I went back home to work on the editorial staff of the radio show Performance Today at the National Public Radio headquarters in Washington, DC on the editorial staff.

Being only the third in my family to graduate from college, my parents were understandably confused as to why I’d leave a well-paying job to pursue a masters degree in vocal performance at Northwestern University where I held down five jobs to support myself in school. Still, they were proud and supportive of how I continued to push the limits of what I knew I could accomplish.

After Chicago, I moved back home again to teach school and worked a retail job to save money to move to New York City, but these little two things called love and marriage whisked me away to Ann Arbor, Michigan where my first son was born. A training opportunity for my husband then took us to Iowa City, Iowa where my second son made his grand entrance. Our family moved to Rochester in 2014 where we have since lived.

2. I’m a professional classical and opera singer

Yes, I can read funny squiggly lines and dots on a sheet of paper and sing really loudly and high in different languages. Does that make me an elitist?


It makes me one of the hardest and most driven workers you’ll ever meet in your entire life. I never imagined singing opera for a career because I never saw Black folks do anything like that as a kid. I picked the one thing that was furthest away from what anyone said I’d ever do, and accomplished it.

That’s pretty hot.

I’ve always loved singing and dancing as a kid and pictured myself on Broadway by the time I got to high school (thanks to a school choir trip to NYC). But, singing opera was definitely a complex, and very expensive (hey there, Navient) dare to take on. I worked hard in graduate school, and afterwards had to study languages, take voice lessons, and work with the best vocal coaches I could find and afford. I sang dozens of auditions to uninterested panels and was told “You’ll never sing ….” more times than I care to recall. Each time I was knocked down and discouraged, I’d have my little tiny violin pity party and get back in the game. I have now performed worldwide in 17 countries with companies, conductors, orchestras, and colleagues that I couldn’t have even begun to imagine as a little girl growing up on Spring Drive.

Me at my flying technical rehearsal at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House before my debut in Jake Heggie and Gene Sheer’s new opera “It’s a Wonderful Life” to a sold out audience in 2018.

Oh, and because life is funny, I am also a fill-in classical music radio host for WXXI Broadcasting. I just can’t escape public radio.

So what’s the significance? Elitist parents don’t give up. When you’ve been through some things, when you’ve worked in a racist industry that has labeled you as “less than” because of the color of your skin, you fight harder and scream louder. Humph. I’ve been in elitist parent training my whole career, huh?

Elitist parents don’t know how to take no for an answer when the inequities rooted in systemic racism threaten to derail their child’s education outcomes. I never stood down back then, and I won’t now.

3. I believe in service, and care deeply about the inequities facing children of color in our community

I’m never satisfied observing anything that I know I can help. My mom calls it busybody syndrome, but I call it service. I am a proud member of the Rochester Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a public service organization focusing on youth and women of color that I’ve been a member of for 23 years. I am the Vice President of the Rochester Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc helping our Black children make a difference in the community. I’ve also served as a board director at the Hochstein School of Music, where my passion was making sure all children in our city had access to a quality music and dance education. I am currently the chair of the board of directors for Rochester’s own Gateways Music Festival presenting orchestral concerts all with musicians of African descent.

In the RCSD, I’ve been a part of the School 12 School Based Planning Team (SBPT), a member of Parent Teacher Associations at Schools 12 and 53, and have spoken at numerous Board of Education meetings in support of our scholars, teachers, and quality services in our schools. I am a “Good Trouble” Cohort 8 Greater Rochester Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) graduate and I serve on various education task forces as a parent representative for our Rochester City families.

My boys and I at the Memorial Art Gallery graduating from PLTI and the Children’s Leadership Training Institute in April.

# Tips and Reminders for Identifying an Elitist Parent Leader

If the opposition is calling you an elitist, you’re doing it right. Their goal is to divide parent leaders into elitists and non elitists. They want to give elitist parent leaders a bad name because elitists make changes happen. That’s just called whining.

Elitist parent leaders don’t come from the same background, income brackets, neighborhoods, or schools. We’ve all grown up with dreams for a better life, work hard at what we can, and serve when called to do so. We’re church leaders, activists, community group facilitators, hard workers, compassionate friends, and our child’s first and most important teacher. Elitist parent leaders are effective at calling out wrongs and standing up for those who can’t, or feel they can’t, speak out. We speak truth to power and fight for quality education for our scholars.

And some of us happen to sing opera, too.

Wanna join the ranks of the elitist parent leaders? Join your school’s parent group or SBPT. Sign up for Roc the Future’s PECAN parent group, the Parent Leadership Advisory Council, or contact the RCSD Office of Family Engagement to find out how you can be an elitist parent leader securing the best outcomes for your children and the larger Rochester community.